Iraq's Brazilian coach Zico admits he feels "emotional" in playing his young and largely untested squad in their 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifier on Tuesday against Japan, whom he coached 2002-06.
"For me it is very, very nice to be back in Japan and very emotional because I worked here 15 years and have a good impression of the Japanese," he told local media today, as his squad flew in after a training camp in Korea Republic.
The 59-year-old, who starred in the FIFA World Cup in 1978, 1982 and 1986 without lifting the trophy, ended his playing career in Japan in 1994. He also helped develop J-League side Kashima Antlers, where he played from 1992-94, as a technical director, and led Japan to Asian Cup victory in 2004. "I have built up many things here and I am happy that the Japanese people realise that," Zico told Kyodo News.
Japan are one of the superpowers in Asia and have bags of quality.
He was credited for calling up Jubilo Iwata defender Yuichi Komano, Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg) and Gamba Osaka playmaker Yasuhito Endo for their first international duties. "Now it is a new team," Zico said of the Blue Samurai, who have been guided by Italian tactician Alberto Zaccheroni since late 2010.
"Japan are one of the superpowers in Asia and have bags of quality," he said. "There are a lot of players in the team that can score goals so we have to watch out for all of them."
Zico has been in charge of Iraq for about a year and his men will clash with Japan at Saitama, north of Tokyo. The Samurai lead Group B on seven points, while Iraq, Australia and Oman each have two points, ahead of Jordan on one.
Zico said his preparations had been hit by injuries and that Iraq would need a team effort to beat Zaccheroni's men. "Three players got injured in Korea and one player didn't arrive," Zico said. "Our team is young and many players are with us for the first time," he said. "I have only got three regulars with me so we will need a complete team effort."
"There are new players that I want to try out and see if they are up to the job but I am confident of getting a result. Mental strength will be the key," he said.